Friday, August 9, 2013

Flower thieves

The oscillating Plumeria branch over the tall compound wall drew my attention. The branch of Plumeria is too rigid to be moved by a breeze.It was a calm morning very recently.  The tailorbirds tweeted from the other greenery to add charm to my morning coffee, which was in my left hand.  The right hand was watering the garden plants with a small container.

We lovingly grow our favourite flowering plants with all care, attention and expense of money, but esp. when they are near the compound wall, they are exposed to easy thieving.

 The sun had emerged on the horizon, the the chosen time of  wretched flower thieves who walk the streets, armed with a small stiff wire hook and plastic carry bag.   Our plumeria  had 2-3 fresh flowers that had opened a couple of days before.  I had even photographed a long shot of it. See flowers circled red in this picture.

Ours is a corner plot.  I scurried to the front yard and looked over the wall just as that branch stopped oscillating.  There SHE was, walking along, with her hook and loot.  Of course, the flowers had disappeared when I checked.  They were now in her bag!

May be what also prompted me to come up with this post was a "Right in the Middle" piece the very next day in our newspaper.  But I had a seed in my mind to do this some day, anyhow.
Many have blogged and many have written on this subject which only tells how ubiquitous these inhuman buggers are.

 Since decent requests failed horribly, I frown, give a dirty look and even shout at their nasty habit.  Yet, they go about their business absolutely shamelessly. They teach us how to be 'thick-skinned'.  There was an old man who used to polish off flowers within his and his tool's reach that garden lovers grew so fondly.  He used to loot just before dawn and the street light was enough for him. I had watched his timing pattern as I used to get up early for my morning walks. One day, I caught him stealing our beautiful red hibiscus over the old compound wall which was not high.  "You are such an aged fellow and you are doing this.... are you not ashamed? Does your Lord ask for thieved flowers?" I shouted with an angry, unhappy tone, giving scant respect.  He continued to steal and he was not deaf.  He walked off with his tool and loot, as if nothing had happened. These old rascals are damn determined to loot. 

Similarly, another elderly lady was doing the same after the compound wall had been 'talled' by a couple of feet as the century-old structure was insufficient for privacy, taking into account the increase and type of 'life' outside. I used to shout from across the wall on seeing her tool pulling the tender branches visible.  "Aren't you ashamed to steal flowers like this for God?; Does God demand such flowers taken in this manner?" I knew she would pass in front of the house and I would wait to throw her another dirty look. They are so stubborn. Nothing affects them.  

So one morning I decided to teach her a small lesson as she was also stealing these pink flowers besides the hibiscus, from outside.  Picture below. Front gate. 

I knew her time pattern too as I used to be in the garden often early in the mornings.  I had kept my tool ready. It was a "counter-hook"!  I was waiting for the opportunity, under the Podranea Pink vine growing up the huge old gate pillar.  It was a nice corner for this plant.  As expected, I felt the top of the vine disturbed by the hook from the opposite side. I held her hook with mine!  I pulled tight!  She was totally unnerved by this unexpected catch! She could guess it was me having been the recipient of my frowns and shouts on more than half a dozen occasions.  "Ayyo, leave it.  Ayyo, leave it.  Flowers only for God, what happens if I pluck? Leave the hook, leave the hook."!  I gave a powerful jerk and then left it, passing my anger to the other hook in that manner and also shouting "Have not I told you not to touch our plants again?".  

In the coming weeks she would murmur abuses against me as she passed by, itching to pluck!  The new gates installed by the new owner of the plot was a hindrance to her hook's reach, not long after. 

Even now she walks by with her tools, looking sheepishly if I am around and hesitating if she should attempt to reach for the flowers there.  There, she is the one!  I have caught her on frame now.  The plastic cover full of thieved flowers are in her left hand - not seen, but the hook is visible.

Beware of these merciless and shameless thieves who care six hoots about who grows flowers or with how much love they were grown. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Sanga Two Piece" ... what is this?

Just in passing I happened to mention, in an e-mail "Sanga Tooo", which was a signal/gesture to end friendship and start 'enemyship'   My friend Kumar wrote back "Another subject for your blog."  I looked up at the ceiling, fingers of both hands interlocked behind my head and thought for a while. Why not?  

"Sanga Tooo Piece" was a common thing, unwanted, but part of childhood. It was gestured holding the the tips of index finger and middle finger tips, curving the fingers so that there was a gap through which we announced "Sanga Tooo Piece". It meant friendship cut into two pieces!  Enemyship.

Speaking or playing in the same playgroup suddenly became uncomfortable because of the presence of an enemy!  Touching an enemy was taboo!  So kids maintained a good distance!  

Oftentimes, enemyship were temporary lasting as short as one day!  When senior members of families came to know about this, the enemies were called together for a reunion, which was the most uncomfortable act, but we obeyed elders.  One of the kids would curve the two fingers the same way, but not in front of the mouth. The other kid passes one finger through the gap splitting the two fingers thus symbolically ending enemyship.  Friends again!  Feelings returning to normalcy took time and a tough period to endure!! 

Friend, unfriend and re-friend!  Thanks to facebook, we have such terms!  'Unfriending' is so easy now on facebook and not as embarrassing as our old-time reality.  

My classmate Rajagopal [Gopi] living in the nearby street was my regular companion to school, both ways, even from the early school days.  It continued till our seventh class.  We had some wonderful memories of our stroll back and forth school almost every day.  We used to go to each other's homes often mostly for playing various games like chess, carrom and whatnot.  

While in 7th we became enemies!  Neither of us cannot recall at all, the cause.  But luckily and strangely not long after, a gooseberry became instrumental in ending our enemyship.  

I now have to take you to the 'Gooseberry' story. But I'll tell in brief.  While playing, a gooseberry pickle was in my mouth, many waiting to be eaten from the pocket!  It got stuck in the gullet. Minor operation cleared the obstruction. Throat became septic after 2-3 days.   Sickness. No school. 7th Public Exams closing in.  Gopi comes with Zakir to see me lying on bed. End of enmity.  [Click] for the full story, if you wish to read. 

Gopi and I were normal friends again.  Though we met as team mates in tennis ball cricket matches and also cricket in his neighbourhood, we were no longer going together to [high] school. We had our own friends by then.  He did his degree and moved to Madras [now Chennai] for greener pastures which became truly green for him.

  For as long as his parents continued to be in the same house I was abreast with his welfare.  His brothers and mother moved away some years later, thus information on Gopi was cut.

After many years one fine afternoon, Gopi turned up at my house with a  "Do you remember me?" look.  What a relief it was with his surprise visit!  Shyly we exchanged some old memories to begin another chapter of fresh friendship. We exchanged addresses and then letters once in a while to stay in touch.  We have met many times since then, with families, at each other's places.  When nostalgia gets the better of us, we never miss reminiscing our wonderful enemyship!!  "Sanga no piece"!  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bitten by the blog bug

Through gardening, I had bumped into a website called Dave's Garden in 2001 when the internet had made its way down to my access at the workplace.  In fact, my quest for plant names had landed me there.  I could not tell the difference between a blog or a website or a portal.  Even now I stutter. I was curious about this word 'blog'.  Some of my American gardener-friends had their own blogs. I had made friends with one Kimberley.  She tried to explain me what it was.  'Web log' in short is 'blog'. Today, I found this link. [Click].   Ok, let it be. 

A few years on, in 2006, I was using 'Googling' something about 'Mysore'.  Now 'google' is admitted in the Oxford Dictionary, so are so many e-terms!  Google took me to a link where I found some group discussing various things.  I discovered it to be Mysore-based.  I soon found there was one GVK.  It was he who was the 'admin'.  It was using very basic features more like at Dave's Garden. It was a discussion forum.  The word blog still dogged me.  But I signed up.  

See my earliest post here. I was glad to have found some like-minded friends, locally.  There were some elderly 'contributors' whom I was to meet. 

This is how it looked, but now inactive. 

Interesting discussions took place.  It was the brainchild of one G.V.Krishnan.  Slowly we got acquainted with each other and we met.  He also visited my house in 2009 and made a short post [click] on the occasion.  He also linked me to many of his posts. [Click]  Do not miss his postings. Just one or two pictures in each post and one or two lines saying something related.  You can take a walk around Mysore with GVK's posts.  No kidding.  He continued to post till his last day in the city.   

It was GVK, 'a journalist who can't stop writing', who inspired many of us in Mysore to 'blog'.  He had come to Mysore to settle down.  He wanted to see Mysore as a better city than it was and tried to do what he could in his own way. But before anything crystallized, he chose Chennai for his home.  Before he left, some of us bloggers met to bid farewell to him and his wife. One could see why he called his first 'blog' as 'MyMysore'. It later led to Mysore Blog Park which is active even now, with wonderful contributors.  This is where I discovered that the same blog can be used by many to post articles. 

Picture from the GVK farewell below. 

In the picture are very senior and renown personalities of Mysore and I find myself here! 
E.R.Ramachandran, H.R.Bapu Sathyanarayana and Krishna Vattam. [Click on their names]. GVK himself wrote in that link how Vattam got into blogging!

Capt.Anup Murthy is another whom I reunited through GVK's MyMysore blog.  Our grandfathers were chuddy-buddies a century ago. Anup, who is an aviator and traveler has his blog too. [Click].  We met GVK in 2009 at his house. See picture above. 

This activity brought some gifted and prolific bloggers.  One was Raji [click on her free-flowing blog] and the other happened to be the grand daughter of Mr.Vattam [you saw him in that group picture above], the veteran journalist of Mysore.  She is Lakshmi. [Click - her blog]  Not even 25, but already authored two books!  When she came to Mysore from half way round the earth, we met.  In the meantime, that had led to her friendships with my children [Next picture].  One of them started blogging. [Click]. 

I have grown fond of referring 'blogging' as 'bragging'.  More than just because they rhyme!
Let the blog-bug bite itch! 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

About our tall coconut trees

Recently when my friend Kumar did what we used to do decades back, it took me back in time. During my casual visit I was handed over half a dozen of their surplus coconuts from their only tree. We had six old and tall trees in the backyard where also a mango and jackfruit trees were.  Since there is no photograph, I have tried to recall on paper, a rough sktech for this purpose.

It was in the house we fondly recall as 1100, its door number.  My grandfather had bought the big house in 1950 which by then was, as per the deed, was already "more than forty years old".  Guesstimating by its height their age was between 70-80 years old in 1985, as old as the house itself and had reached a great height. They were the tallest in the area even from the time I could recall, having been in that house for the first 40 years of my life.  The 1100 completely left us in 2009, in a turn of events.

[Picture from 1991.  See '1100']
I took this picture [click all pictures to enlarge] of '1100' in 2001 from balcony of the opposite house.  Parts of three of those tall coconut trees at the back of the house are marked 'see'.  The other three had been chopped down just a few years before this picture was taken. The back of the house was a few feet lower.  About the young coconut tree seen in front of the house, I will brief later.

The six vintage trees were giving good fruit and yield, even with not much care.  During the storms the high speed winds they swayed dangerously.  The sight of the swaying trees used to make us extremely tense.  If there was a storm at night, it would be impossible to sleep until the wind calmed.  To be sure that no fronds or loose mature nuts fell on the tiled roof of the house [Iyengar's house] across the conservancy we would eagerly wait to get them removed as soon as whichever tree climber came asking.

Many times we used to pray nothing untoward should happen esp. during the storms. Nothing had happened before and nothing in their lives. It is said that the coconut tree, fronds or nuts will not fall on humans.  99% is true barring a few stray and extremely rare incidents of tree falling on people or a nut falling on someone's head.  There is one person Hari on whose head a nut had fallen when he was a young boy.  He is still around.

A few times, some loose fruit had accidentally fallen on Iyengar's house] but luckily no one had been hurt for decades. We used to replace the broken tiles when they came asking. We had an old stock of a few tens of them.  They were so understanding.

One coconut tree climber used to come periodically. I forgot his name of this 55 plus man who had a bald pate.  Climbing these tall trees needed skill and experience, more so dropping the nuts one by one patiently and fronds carefully inside the compound or at safe open space in the narrow conservancy.  He was the right man for this location and we were lucky as he was as patient as he was decent, though he would show occasional hints of arrogance. 

The dropped nuts would bounce and fly in all directions, if they fell on the compound or hit some hard object by chance. So we had to watch him pluck and drop from a safe distance.  If someone was passing through the conservancy, he would shout from his perch before dropping.  Two of the six trees were relatively safe as their 'heads' were in line with our open yard. Two were right above Iyengar's roof and the trees on either end leaned outward over the conservancy.  He also had to take care of the electric wires in the conservancy and the clothes lines in our yard!

When this man stopped coming, some other climber had to be engaged. We had no other choice but to trust and beg him to pluck carefully.  The fee was the same @Rupees ten per tree. Only those trees would be climbed where a good number of nuts were identified by him were mature. One such climber we got was young and rash and he started dropping the entire bunch that made our hearts pop to our mouths. He never heeded to our shouting from below to pluck one by one. Luckily nothing happened, when it fell on the compound and bounced in all directions and a frond he threw hit the power lines.  Luckily not long after, we found another good climber in one Murali.

Murali in his early 20s was from the neighbouring locality.  He was a timid fellow, slightly retarded in mental development and from a very poor family. But he was skillful. We would also give Murali also Rs.10/ tree and he would also help in dehusking the nuts @ ten paisa/ nut. During the mango season he would carefully pluck mangoes too. Each time he climbed a tree my mother and aunt would pray and before he did that, "Careful, Murali, be careful."  He was known to be epileptic. Another rare knack he had is here in a separate short post: [Click].

Gathering all the plucked nuts and storing them on the lumber room attic was a fun job for me. It was never a chore for me, somehow, including gathering dry fronds and other tree waste, which we would store and use for fueling the water boiler. Fruits that had less water in them went separately to make copra many weeks later while the 'right' ones were kept aside for deshelling.   All the parts of the tree are useful in some way or other.  It is known as 'Kalpavriksha' in Sanskrit.

Monkey menace was another headache we had.  They used to climb the tree, neatly 'drill' a hole, drink the water and dropped the nuts.  Once it gave us sleepless nights. It had left the empty nut in the groove of a horizontal frond which was above Iyengar's house. We could see it clearly from below. The moment we spotted, it created tension.  We prayed to find Murali or someone to arrive, but none came.  On the third day, Murali came, like godsend!  It had lain there for 3 days and had given us 3 sleepless nights!

Earlier my father used to deshell the nuts for urgent needs, using a thick sickle.  When I grew up, I had learnt to do the same. Later, I modified the method used by professionals.  I used a garden pickaxe instead of a short crowbar, driven into the ground with the sharp flattened end pointing upward to which the shell is pierced and torn using hand force. 

We came across someone who was selling a mechanical dehusker.  The man was walking the streets to sell.  This was a great boon because it reduced the drudgery to a great extent.  

With passing years the trees seemed to be still growing and reaching the sky, so was our tension.  Murali had prematurely died [sadly he had fallen from a tree by slipping, in someone's premise] and that there was no suitable climber available.

So to avert any possible mishap, one by one, the trees were felled by expert tree-choppers. We felt really sad but it was such a relief.  But we took solace in the fact that four trees had been planted in the front yard in 1985.  

When the logs were cut to size, my mother retained four pieces while the rest were used up for the boiler fuel which lasted for one year. I made stools from the neat pieces.  The inspiration was from similar stools made from taxidermied elephant legs, which I had seen decades ago in a movie theatre. 

Capt.Srikantaiah, from our opposite house had given us four sprouted coconut plants from a beautiful variety of his old tree at his house.  
[This is a picture I took holding the camera against the trunk]

Here is a view from 1991. The tree that I planted was very small at that time.  

It was still there in 2012 when the house I grew up was demolished. What happened to the property was hinted at the beginning. The same tree is seen in this picture grown much. The trees also continued to give good fruits and held its reputation. 

I moved to our other ancestral house in 1998.  It had two coconut trees.  One was very old and the other was only about 15-20 years old. The latter had been planted by the tenant. 

This is the newer tree which had developed some disease and had made the trunk soft.  So I decided to chop it down to avert danger.

I identified in our album picture, the older tree. [Pictured right]  It must be from 1941 when a marriage had taken place in the house. The tips of the fronds are seen at the right corner.  It had a reputation of not yielding fruits properly all its life.  I had briefly tried to do something to alleviate the problem with the help of the Horticultural Society but to no avail.  Things remained the same even after 4 years of being treated and well watered.  A relative who had been born here in 1927 when he visited after 50 years looked at the tree and asked "Does it bear fruit now?  It had not been earlier."! 

This is how tall it had grown in 2009 when it was chopped down when further alterations were taking place in the family/house.

This is the same view of the old picture. The couple were standing where the blue-short tree chopper is standing. The tree is party cut.

That was the last we had of coconut trees.  Coconut tree climbers too had reduced in number and even when someone came, they had hiked to Rs.50/- per tree while some charged 'per nuts plucked'.  It was becoming an unreasonable and expensive affair.  
From several angles it was realized that buying coconuts were cheaper and not having a coconut tree despite having space is advantageous in these days.

In fact, I will cherish the experience of caring and being with the eight Kalpavrikshas for a long time.